The Parasite Paradise
Venom is directed by Ruben Fleischer and stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, and Reid Scott. It is the first film in Sony's Marvel Universe, intended to be adjunct to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It's pretty clear that Sony has a focused and exciting vision for the Spider-Man character over the next five, ten years. From his recent MCU appearances to the computer-animated wonder that was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Marvel and Sony are laying the groundwork for what looks to be a gigantic tidal wave of sequels, spin-offs, and other movies that, in some shape or form, are all connected to Spider-Man. You could say it's Sony's way of revitalizing the character following the disappointment of 2007's Spider-Man 3 and the failure to launch that was the two The Amazing Spider-Man films. One such disappointment of Spider-Man 3 was the disagreement between director Sam Raimi and producer Avi Arad over the use of the Venom character, as Raimi had no interest in exploring the character while Arad insisted that Venom be included because he was one of the more popular villains among fans and audiences. Although Arad has since publicly stated this was a mistake on his part, the damage had been done, and Spider-Man 3 had all but put the superhero into an ice box.
No one was happy with Venom being a sideshow, and various attempts were made towards giving the character his own spin-off film: a film that tried to become reality starting way back in 1997, but never saw the light of day in the years before and even after Spider-Man 3. Thus, the character was shelved until Sony revived him in March 2016, and two years later, we finally have our solo Venom film. Despite a flurry of unfavorable reviews and getting released while the superhero movie market is as saturated as it's ever been, Venom went on to achieve a worldwide gross of around $855 million, setting record box office numbers for the month of October, and all but ensuring Sony has the green light to do more with this character who took so long to get out of development. Watching this movie for myself made me think of my experience watching Batman v Superman: fully enjoying what I was seeing on screen despite noticing obvious flaws.
Venom is a very polarizing superhero movie: one that is made in such a way that it warrants either jubilant approval or complete dismay. What is entertaining to one person in this movie might be cacophonous nonsense to another. Venom is not any sort of ugly special effects monster that could only be the product of one Mr. Michael Bay, so there's a small victory right there. However, there are some other things on the surface to make one approach this movie with cynicism: the PG-13 rating for one. Are the Deadpool movies not enough proof that superhero movies can be R-rated and not be any worse off at the box office? Venom likes to bite people's heads off, and that alone is enough to garner an R rating. Unfortunately for those of us demanding an R-rated cut, gory human butchery was too much for Sony to willingly release in theaters. Considering these are the same people behind the production of The Emoji Movie, I guess it was never a good idea to get our hopes up.
So then, Venom is, as you probably guessed, the origin story of the alien symbiote named Venom who joins forces with disgraced journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy). The bio-engineering corporation known as the Life Foundation is awaiting the return of a probe that has collected four samples from a planet inhabited by symbiotic lifeforms. However, the probe crashes, and one of the symbiotes escapes. The other samples are recovered, and Life Foundation CEO Carlton Drake (Ahmed) conducts human trials to test if these symbiotes are able to bond with a human host. Investigative journalist Eddie Brock, living with his fiancee Anne Weying (Williams), learns about these human trials and goes to confront Drake in person. However, Eddie is rebuffed, and because the confidential information he saw was from one of Anne's work emails, both he and Anne are fired from their jobs. Anne breaks up with Eddie, and Eddie begins the slow decline into loser-ville.
Six months later, Carlton Drake is still experimenting with the symbiotes, but one of his scientists, Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), has seen enough and seeks out Eddie to put an end to his ways. Dora helps Eddie break into the research facility, and during a skirmish with one of the inhabited test subjects, a symbiote transfers into Eddie's body. Eddie escapes, and the symbiote turns out to be an excellent fit for his body, giving him superhuman abilities and allowing him to turn into a giant black creature. The symbiote introduces itself as Venom, and as Venom and Eddie get acquainted, the one other surviving symbiote, Riot, begins to make its way back to San Francisco, where it finds Carlton Drake to be a suitable host.
- If Venom had to get anything right, it had to have been the dynamic between Eddie and Venom. The love hate relationship between the two is as wonderful as advertised, providing the film with some legitimately funny moments and a more light-hearted tone that will keep you from thinking this movie belongs alongside all the gloomy, serious-business superhero films of the early 2000s. The conversations between Eddie and Venom are treated like talks between two bickering man-children, and I was willing to go along with this because the movie has a clear agenda towards being as fun as possible. albeit at the cost of some more mature arguments about how the two may or may not need each other. The script only lightly touches on how both Eddie and Venom were losers in their respective worlds, which may or may not be analyzed further in the sequel (currently in development, so I hear).
- Speaking of the script, the writing is not all that impressive for a superhero movie (particularly an origin story), and some of the dialogue is pretty lame. The biggest issue in regards to the script is that the movie completely goes against its motto of how the world has enough superheroes and that Venom is the anti-hero everyone needs. That would be nice, except that screenwriters Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenburg, and Kelly Marcel inexplicably give its titular character motivations that make him resemble more of a superhero than an anti-hero. Venom's desire to stop Riot is because Eddie convinces him that Earth should be protected from a symbiote invasion, not because Venom has any sort of personal beef with Riot and his planet's way of life. All that Venom does to support his case for being an anti-hero is beat up some hapless policemen and threaten to bite off people's heads, all of which is completely nerfed by the PG-13 rating.
If this Venom is supposed to eventually become a nemesis to the heroic Spider-Man, then why would I take him seriously in a fight against Spider-Man if his villainous traits barely go beyond making lunch out of muggers and petty criminals? Basically, Venom hypes up the alien symbiote by claiming him as an anti-hero, yet has its fingers crossed behind its back, praying that you don't ask what exactly is it about this Venom that makes him an anti-hero. It would be like if I told someone, "The sky is green", and expect them to believe me without asking questions.
The script also likes to gloss over other important parts, such as how Dora Skirth knows where Eddie Brock lives and is able to find him with relative ease, as well as what makes Carlton Drake a good human host for Riot, aside from the fact that they are both super evil. Michelle Williams is present throughout the movie, though the script is a bit hard-pressed to give her something to do. It's obvious the majority of the writing efforts went towards Eddie and Venom, but it's too bad that everything around them in the movie is half-baked and kind of forgettable.
I think it should be mentioned that Venom also misleads you with its run time: the movie is said to be around 112 minutes, but I paused my TV as soon as the end credits started, and, no joke, the end credits start rolling at the 92 minute mark. The remaining twenty minutes consist of a mid-credits scene teasing the next film as well as a sneak peek of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
So, yes: Venom is a troubled superhero movie: one with some fairly mediocre writing and a phobia towards being the nasty, blood-filled super-villain movie that we all wanted. However, I can confidently state that I wasn't at all bored with it: not when Eddie and Venom make for a delightful human-alien combo on top of some decent action and some laugh-out-loud bits of comedy. It's a perfectly enjoyable movie that wants to be fun and deviate at least a little bit from the all the superhero conventions, although the script doesn't do anywhere near enough to justify its title character as an anti-hero. Venom mostly wants to be a fun re-introduction to one of Spider-Man's greatest opponents, and it does so without getting bogged down in world-building and setting up future installments. I hope that Sony can add to this character in later films, because seeing what they're looking to do with anything and everything Spider-Man in the next decade, we are going to be seeing a lot more of Venom in the years to come.
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